Theatre Review: Ecstasy

Classic Mike Leigh drama is resurrected at the Hampstead Theatre as the veteran film director revives one of his past plays for the first time ever. Will ECSTASY still sizzle?

MIKE Leigh returns to one of his past plays for the first time ever, in this resurrection of Ecstasy.

Leigh is best known for his films - including Abigail’s Party and Secrets and Lies - but this is a real gem, where he collaborates with designer Alison Chitty in Ecstasy’s return to the Hampstead Theatre.

Set in 1979, the Winter of Discontent is over and Margaret Thatcher’s regime is about to transform the country.

Jean (Sian Brooke) divides her time between her dull job as a petrol pump assistant and drinking heavily at home in her poky bedsit. A passive character, she is desperately lonely and the loutish men she has up at her flat do nothing to dispel this loneliness. In one unpleasant scene a man comes close to raping her, followed by the violent visit of his furious wife. Nor do the visits of best friend Dawn (Sinead Matthews) and her charismatic drunk husband Mick (Allen Leech) bring cheer, the pair seemingly oblivious to Jean’s plight.

Jean just goes along with whatever anyone around her suggests. Could the kind and gentle ex-boyfriend Len (Craig Parkinson) yet provide her with a way out of her plight, or is it too late?

Sinead Matthews brings many a belly laugh as lively, party loving mother Dawn. But Brooke as Jean is the real star of this show, communicating perfectly the pain she feels.

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The long second act of the play, a party scene at Jean’s bedsit, builds up the constant drinking, smoking and song as the characters try to blank out reality. It only comes to a head in the last few minutes, when the despairing, cheerless truth becomes all too clear.

Ecstasy is classic Mike Leigh – thought provoking, harrowing but also extremely funny.

* Showing at the Hampstead Theatre in Eton Avenue, NW3, until Saturday, April 9.